No Sleep for the Weary
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal
By Robert Patrick
Slicked with dirt and mud, unwavering of its characters’ flaws and blemishes, director Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” is a ruggedly beautiful character drama. Last year’s “The Wrestler”, carved out of the same aged wood and pulpy brine, contains a similar method of exploring the psyches of forgotten heroes. The west is painted in broad strokes of dust and dirt, romance and loneliness, in the directorial debut of Cooper, whose camera navigates with the ease and neutrality of an orphaned tumbleweed. Because the actors embody the characters so well in the film, Cooper refrains from tampering too much with stylistic details, instead letting the naturalistic performances pour out into each scene.
A worn down country music legend, Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges), finds himself traversing across the country, playing in musty bowling alleys and hole-in-the-wall bars. The singer’s attitude is stubborn; strong as a dirty bottle of whiskey, and sour as a pan of week old milk. Blake plays for pocket change, wherever he can, and is rarely capable of playing an entire set. With sunken posture and spotty hair growing from his chin, Blake has seen better days. The man is a reckless cowboy; a pioneer of country music and promiscuous nights. But despite Blake’s storied successes, he is now a forgotten footnote in history. When he isn’t wounded and staggering in bars, the old badger, wrapped in washed out flannel shirts, moseys around, clanking bottles of liquor in murky hotel rooms. Meanwhile, his protégé (Colin Farrell) is a sensation, making his living plucking guitars and wailing out hit songs on huge stages.
Bridges is tailor made for a role that utilizes his fatigued, burn-out drawl and disheveled features. And though the actor has practically made a living as a beer shooting good-guy, here, in a film that puts all of the pieces together, Bridges gives one of the best performances of his career. The story, adapted from Thomas Cobb’s book “Crazy Heart”, boasts a sincere story to begin with, but with the creaky fingers and the wheezing voice of Bridges behind the weary soul of Bad Blake, there is a fantastical and enigmatic force that takes over the screen. Bridges looks like Kris Kristofferson, Meryle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. The actor’s weathered face is transcendent to all of country music’s saloon soaked stories and mythical heartaches. The movie, beyond all else, is touching because the Bad Blake character is a conglomerate of western ethos. Everyone can relate to the outlaw tendencies within us, no matter how big or small. Blake makes a lot of errors, refuses to bend musically, and grapples with the aspects of new love.
The general plotline of “Crazy Heart” is about despondency and hope. About how an old battle horse fights another day. There is a love story between Blake and a reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), whose burgeoning passion for her job lands her in the arms of a untamed and wily musician. Here, some of the movie’s great sequences transpire. But for me, the small and seemingly menial details make “Crazy Heart” a movie of total glory. The hubris of a fallen star is passionately branded into the soul of Cooper’s outstanding film. From watching Blake pine for better equalization during a sound check to hearing his voice softly crackle over the strings of his guitar, “Crazy Heart” makes you want to unsheathe your old western albums and play them thoughtfully. The mysterious glow of a setting sun is evoked in the words, the songs, the direction of this film.
Because “Crazy Heart” was masterfully scored by famed musician T Bone Burnett, Bridges’ husky voice and aged fingers created some memorable tunes worthy of Best Original Song considerations. For me, there may be more entertaining films released this year, but I doubt that many will have as much emotional resonance as Cooper’s film. What a strange, beautiful way to spend a night at the theater.